September 03, 2021
By Curt Wells
Question: I have a burning desire to bowhunt caribou, but guided hunts have gotten so expensive I have to go DIY. I realize that limits me to Alaska. Got any advice? Kimberly B., via e-mail
Answer: I just returned from a DIY caribou hunt in Alaska. First, research “transporters,” as they will fly you in by bush plane. These flight services tend to be busy, so book early.
Make sure your transporter flies into areas conducive to bowhunting. Wide-open Alaskan tundra is no place for a bowhunter, but your pilot will know where the bowhunting areas are, and more importantly, where the caribou are. Be aware that as of this writing, the Biden Administration’s Federal Subsistence Board was deciding whether to close off two massive areas (GMUs 23 and 26A) to non-local hunting, so do some research if you hope to hunt the Western Arctic herd in those units.
Next, start a list, because you’ll be doing it all on your own. I purchased all my dehydrated food, snacks, and other nonperishable food for the entire trip for three people for eight days plus two, just in case Mother Nature stranded us. I put the food, a JetBoil stove, ropes, tarps, instant coffee and hot chocolate, cutlery, lantern, first-aid kit, 2.6-gallon water bag, frying pan (for tenderloins), salt/pepper, and various other items in a heavy-duty tote. Don’t forget to include a water-filtration pump. Do not drink any water that isn’t filtered or boiled. I sealed the tote and shipped it by USPS (not UPS or FedEx) to my transporter in Kotzebue, AK. Send it well in advance, so you know it will be there when you arrive.
Since you can’t ship or carry-on butane for your JetBoil, you will need to purchase it by phone in the village you plan to fly into and have it delivered to your transporter. There was a shortage last fall, so don’t wait until you arrive to acquire it. We also packed an ultra-light backup stove. Without flame, you’re in trouble.
Instead of one large, heavy tent, we opted to each bring a lightweight personal backpacking tent. My two-person Hilleberg weighed only five pounds. We also packed ultra-lightweight Helinox chairs, because you need a place to sit.
Footwear is critical. It’s likely you’ll have to wade water at some point, so we went with two options. I prefer to wear Kenetrek boots and gaiters, which allow me to quickly wade shallow water without getting wet. For the wetter applications, I wear Simms breathable stocking foot waders with their Guide Boots. I’ve worn this combination on three brown bear hunts and one caribou hunt, and they are fantastic. You stay dry in a downpour or when you sit on the ground, and you only need a rain jacket. Hip boots are hard on your feet and ankles, and you’ll need to wear rain pants as well as a jacket. Quality raingear is a necessity.
That’s also true for a sleeping bag. I grabbed my 20-degree bag instead of a 0-degree bag and paid for that mistake. A pad that insulates is also a good idea, especially if the ground is frozen.
What’s left should be your usual hunting gear and clothing, which must be high-quality and lightweight, because your pilot will have a weight limit. Ours was 80 pounds each. I highly recommend an InReach, or some other method of communication with the outside world. Make a list, check it often, then check it again. And good luck.
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